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5.43 pm

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): No hon. Member does not believe that legislation that affects Northern Ireland is supremely important. It is important to everyone who represents a British constituency on the mainland; it is supremely important to the citizens of Northern Ireland; it is also important to those in the Republic of Ireland. The peaceful settlement of Ulster is unquestionably a prize that we all seek. However, the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) expressed a truth. What is the point of electing Members of Parliament if they cannot speak on the issues that come before the House? What is the point of electing Members of Parliament if they cannot touch on matters of the greatest importance to their fellow citizens? That is the matter of principle that fights against the guillotine.

It is true that not all hon. Members can serve on a Committee, and the only opportunity for those who do not do so to express the voice of their community is on Report and Third Reading on the Floor of the House. I was interested to note that the Minister said, fairly, that the Government had granted up to six hours for considering those matters. Perhaps the vast majority of the more than 220 Government amendments are technical, but none of us doubts that substantial matters of principle are involved.

The simple purpose of a timetable motion--whether agreed between Front Benchers or imposed by the Government--is to curtail debate. The Government have done what they now do in all guillotine motions; they have made the debate on the free-standing guillotine motion part of the consideration of the Bill. That must be wrong. I have full sympathy for hon. Members who feel that their opportunity to discuss matters of importance to their constituencies is being reduced.

Such matters are also important to my constituency. The bombing campaigns that have cursed the nation for 30 years must animate the House to consider the very importance of the Ulster business that is before us, because it is not just their business; it ours, and a settlement is required not just for this island, but for another island as well.

The Minister of State at least put all the arguments for a guillotine, but he did not address the fundamental principle. I shall not take up the time of the House, but the motion involves a matter of principle. The Government have introduced 36 guillotines; some have had the agreement of Opposition Front Benchers, but the purpose has not been to seek consent, which is what the House wants. We want a settlement, but the traditions of the House allow those who oppose or seek to improve Government legislation the opportunity to express themselves to that end. The Government have set aside those traditions 36 times.

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The Government are now reducing the opportunities to debate the matters that are most important to us. The guillotine motion, for which all the Government's supporters will vote, will reduce the debate to less than three hours. That is wrong, and every hon. Member knows that perfectly well. The Bill deserves more than a three-hour debate, yet there could be less time than that if there is a Division.

I have set the main objections in the context of the motion, but a wider principle is involved: 36 guillotine motions have denied the House its very purpose and reason to exist. This is Parliament; we do not constitute the Executive, other than by giving our consent to legislation. Such motions deny us the opportunity properly and appropriately to express that consent or to deny it.

5.48 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): This is not the first time that I have had the honour to follow the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). I entirely agree with him. We have always taken the view that guillotine motions are wrong in principle. The position of the House is an important matter, which should be vindicated. I do not intend to take much time, but I want to make a couple of points.

First, I want to amplify the point that I made in intervening on the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney). I agree with the complaint that he and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) made about the Standing Committee. This is an important Northern Ireland Bill, so it is appropriate that the Committee that considered it should have been representative of all the main sections of opinion in Northern Ireland that are represented in the House. I expressed that view to the Minister earlier in the proceedings on the Bill. I told him that there should be broader representation, because it is important that hon. Members have an opportunity to debate the Bill in detail.

The hon. Member for North Antrim referred to the attacks taking place in Northern Ireland, all of which we deplore. He said that the attacks came from both sides. That is true, but many of them have come from people who would identify themselves as supporters of the hon. Member for North Antrim.

That fact casts a particular responsibility on the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to condemn the violence by people who describe themselves as his supporters. That is not to minimise the seriousness of the Stewartstown bomb and the Aghalee petrol bomb, which represent an extremely serious and worrying portent. As I said yesterday, the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic also has a particular responsibility. Terrorist elements are trying to attack the agreement for which 95 per cent. of his electorate voted, and he needs to redeem the promises that he has made over the past year.

On the issue before us, I want to draw out one point. This is an important Bill, as the Minister has said, and Members of the House have different views on it. As the shadow Secretary of State said, Her Majesty's Opposition abstained on Second Reading. We voted against, and the Social Democratic and Labour party voted for. That voting pattern may be reproduced on Third Reading--but

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looking beyond the positions that, for a variety of reasons, people adopt to the detail of the Bill on Second and Third Reading, there is a similarity between the three parties. They support some parts of the Bill, but are uncomfortable with others and want them to be changed.

The desire of all three parties to engage in a serious debate to improve the Bill characterised the 40 constructive hours spent in Committee--and, as the Minister acknowledged, the Opposition parties made no attempt to delay proceedings or to obfuscate the matter. All desired a serious debate, and that same desire will be apparent on Report, when we want all the serious issues to be reconsidered and all those who were unable to be members of the Committee to contribute. As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) said, were there no guillotine the debate would still be unlikely to run for more than six hours, although it would probably run to a second day.

What on earth is wrong with giving this important Bill a second day? Why does it have to be rushed through the House now? It is not being rushed through today to allow those of my colleagues who wish to attend the 12 July celebrations to do so, although one could put that construction on the motion. I have reason to believe that the Government's initial wish was for the Bill to go on Report on the twelfth in the hope that none of us would be present--but that is by the way.

There is no reason why the debate could not have run to a second day, as would have been appropriate for a Bill of this size and importance. We could have had a serious debate without being rushed. As it is, we shall be rushed tonight and we may not consider the whole Bill, which is a sad way to complete a process that in Committee consisted of serious consideration of the issue by a wide range of parties. In these circumstances, it is sad that the Government have tabled a guillotine motion.

5.53 pm

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry): All visitors to the House pass through St. Stephen's Hall, in which there is a depiction of the barons confronting King John. That was the first formidable effort to restrict the power of the Executive in those days, and the House is directly descended from that incident.

Mr. Robert McCartney: Magna Carta.

Mr. Ross: Magna Carta, as the hon. and learned Gentleman says.

Therefore, Members of the House have a duty not only to represent the views of their constituents, but to curb the excesses of the Executive and to call them to account. Guillotined Bills and timetable motions are an attempt to limit the capacity of all Members of the House to fulfil that duty, and no Member should lose sight of that important fact. As we all know, this is a Bill of great importance, for it will create a new police force for Northern Ireland at the behest not of the law abiding or those who want to remain in the United Kingdom, but of those who want to live under a rule different from the constitutional monarchy that we enjoy.

In the early stages of the Patten inquiry, I said that there was no complaint from members of the public that I could find when the Royal Ulster Constabulary investigated ordinary crime of whatever type and from whatever

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source. In fact, everyone was glad to see the coppers arrive. Therefore, all the complaints that arose did not stem from the behaviour of the police in investigating ordinary crime, but related to their investigations of and opposition to terrorist crime. That is the real basis of the Bill. Those who were engaged in terrorism deeply resented the actions of the police service and the military in Northern Ireland and the force that had to be used to control that evil activity.

When the Bill is passed, as we all know it will be, the question will be whether it satisfies Irish nationalists of whatever stripe or description, never mind the IRA. That remains to be seen, but I suspect that they will find good excuses for not being satisfied. The Government set out their considered view of the Patten report when they published the Bill, and they have also set out their considered view on the need for the motion, but if they carefully considered what parts of Patten to implement and published a Bill on that basis, why did they accept amendments and give commitments to accept amendments? I believe that that agreement results from the torrent of complaint from the IRA, Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour party and fellow travellers in the Irish nationalist community. Indeed, IRA representatives are presently touring the United States to complain about the Bill.

In passing, I must say that I am not clear in my own mind about what any British police force has to learn about the use of minimal force from a nation--

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